Hello all, October is here! First, I think you should all know that Pumpkin Spice horse treats is most definitely a thing.
Is there a 12 step program for people resisting the urge to go horse shopping? I have to give my little spiel to every horse person I meet: “Hi, my name is Abby and I’m a horseaholic. It has been 42 days since I sold my horse. Sometimes it gets pretty bleak.”
My mom has become my sponsor. She’s not a horsey person at all, but I’ve went over the basics with her and I’m quite proud of the monster I’ve created. If I start out saying a horse is “perfect, amazing, or has lots of potential,” but then slip in that it is green, or has foundered, or has a certain vice, she instantly shakes her head hauls me back to reality and what I need to do to achieve my goals. Back when I sold Shiloh I sat down with her and talked about what I look for in an ideal horse and what qualities I really don’t want to compromise on. Then I talked in detail about budget and my plan to save up over the winter and put off horse shopping till the spring, when I can finally let loose with somewhat of a money-is-no-object attitude.
In the mean time, Cooper is becoming more and more impressive. What began as a simple catch ride situation has become more of a free lease. Cooper’s owner is absolutely thrilled with all the time I am putting into him and I am starting to feel more confident in myself as a rider. We are now picking up the correct lead about 80% of the time!
I am terribly ashamed to admit this, but even though I have competed first level and have been schooling second level, I don’t think I have ever really understood how to properly cue for or recognize the right lead. Perhaps it’s because cantering was scary when I was just beginning to ride and I talked myself into spending a disproportionate amount of time doing walk and trot work, only cantering as much as the instructor made me. Canter has always been my most difficult gait to manage, even if we are just talking about just sitting the canter. Till now I’ve basically just sat up tall, slipped my outside leg back, and hoped for the best. I’ve gotten braver since then, and I feel like my cantering has improved since I poured myself into correcting Shiloh’s cantering problems. Luckily, Cooper seems to be the magic pony key that has unlocked this lead problem for me. I’ve never noticed it before, but when I canter with Cooper I feel a very pronounced shift in my hips when I am cantering each direction. For some reason, his choppy short strides work in my favor, as each lead is extremely exaggerated and I can actually feel how dramatically my inside hip pushes forward when I am on the correct lead and outside when I am on the wrong lead. It’s so stupid easy I wish I could have picked up on it years before, and maybe I would have saved my self from the terrible cycle of leaning down to check on shoulders, losing my seat, and then bolting forward.
Better yet, after weeks of painful stirrup-less post/sit/two point combos, I finally got to the point where my lower leg stays put throughout my trot work. My inner thighs beefed up and I became intimately acquainted with muscles in my core that I didn’t know I had. Even more surprising, I realized that “heels down!” is really just a sadly lazy and simplistic explanation for “legs down”. I was sabotaging my riding every time I jammed my heels down. Invariably, when I tried to comply with my screaming instructor and flex my ankle, it would tense my entire leg, from my shin muscles to my hamstrings, to my hips. It’s like training a horse to work on the bit. If you want a harmonious connection that doesn’t look forced, you have to work from the right direction-back to front. I cringe as I remember my summer camp horsemanship instructor days, all those times I barked at my campers to jam their heels down as if it were a silver bullet for position.
It’s the same with the rider’s leg position. If you try to work from heel to hips you will end up tense and heavy and fail miserably, because you are focusing your efforts in the wrong direction. As I discovered when I removed my stirrup leathers from my saddle, every thing felt different. I felt where my hip bones and pubic bones should sit on the saddle, and I felt a more pronounced swaying rhythm as I let my lower legs sashay from side to side with the horse’s barrel. I felt how to curl my relaxed legs around his barrel like a wet rag over a cup as I picked up a trot, feeling each hip bone pedal up and down, side to side.
Though my position remains far from perfect, I learned a valuable lesson on how to work from my spine to pelvis to groin to ankles. I don’t understand why everyone was so crazed about keeping your heels down even when you are bareback or working with no stirrups. I say let your feet relax–even flop– when you are riding sans stirrups. The Heels Down police are not going to arrest you (well, maybe they will, but don’t listen to them!). Stirrups automatically complement well positioned legs as they do the job of holding your toes upright. There should be no tension and no effort in flexing your ankle beyond what the stirrups produce naturally.
Finally, I just sold my sadly worn old Isabelle Wintec and I am in the process of negotiating price on a lovely used Isabelle Bates saddle. I’ve always dreamed of owning high quality leather tack, but I hope I won’t miss the insane durability of my old Wintec. In the mean time I am riding Cooper in this horrendously uncomfortable crapfest western Abetta saddle, of which the only pro seems to be that it weighs practically nothing and seems to fit Cooper like a dream. It has a wide twist and oddly curved seat that makes me feel like my seat bones are being slowly forced apart like some sadistic medieval torture device and these stiff fenders that refuse to twist enough to allow my feet in the stirrups. I guess this means more no stirrup work until I can finally get my greedy little hands on my new leather dressage throne.
Until then, happy riding! Enjoy the pants off this awesome fall weather!